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Vertebrate Structure and FunctionOrganization logo: Wageningen University & Research

About this course

In the lectures, an overview will be given of the origin, evolution, diversity and adaptive radiation of the vertebrates. The course presents material on the macroscopical and microscopical level, using an integrative approach. Basic biomechanics is used to gain insight into the physical constraints on morphology. Specific topics (such as interpretation of the fossil record, comparative morphology at the levels of the organism, organs and tissues) are studied by the students from books and papers. Students discuss these topics in small groups on the basis of a series of questions. The laboratory work (14 half-days) provides a broad overview of the structural biology of the various lineages of vertebrates. The student will be trained to recognize the relationships between structure, function, behavior and environment. In one part (6 half days) major body plans will be studied via dissection. Another part (5 half days) focuses on the microscopical anatomy in relation to functional requirements. Macroscopical and microscopical requirements will be linked. In a third part (3 half days), students will work in small groups (~5 students) on a mini-research project. Each group studies a different aspect of the functional morphology of bird flight, such as wing and muscle design in relation to the specific requirements of flight. One or two students from each group will orally present the results and all group members participate in the discussion of the results of their research with the rest of the groups. An excursion will be organized to a museum or zoo (optional).

Learning outcomes

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:

  • Identify the synapomorphic traits of the different vertebrate groups;
  • Recognize morphological tissues and structures in animal specimens and indicate their functions;
  • Explain the theories concerning the origin of vertebrates and common ancestry of vertebrate groups;
  • Compare the evolutionary developments in the blue print of different vertebrate species (in relation to their function);
  • Discuss how laws of physics influence the design of an animal (forces, diffusion, scaling issues);
  • Assess an animal’s functional morphology based on its behaviour and ecological niche.

Prior knowledge

Mandatory Knowledge:
ZSS06100 Laboratory Safety
Assumed Knowledge:
EZO10306 Human and Animal Biology I
HAP20306 Human and Animal Biology, part II

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